Ebele Mogo is the very first author in our Launch Collection. Her short story 29 Steps is a lovely short story portraying a life-changing loss for the main character Dube Igwe. In this interview, Ebele talks about her experiences writing the story as well as her dual life as a doctoral candidate in public health and a writer.
THE JELI: Tell us about yourself – where are you from, what do you do?
EBELE MOGO: I am doctoral candidate in public health at the moment and also working on various projects that range from mobile health, to non-communicable disease prevention and management to health systems research. I am from Nigeria and I grew up there until I was 14 when I left for North America. I have lived primarily in North America, although visiting Nigeria often. I have also lived in Japan and Scotland.
THE JELI: When did you start writing?
EBELE MOGO: As a science student for most of my life most of the writing and reading I have done has been technical – calculations, analysis and the like. Since those have also shaped me I add them to my writing history. I also read and wrote on the side, from writing and presenting the news in primary school, to secondary school debates and essays to poems when I was in university, among others. I often wrote songs and taught my family and loved ones. Writing of the creative sort was a constant thread and a breath of fresh air, but always on the corners and free spaces of my life until relatively recently when I have tried to be more consistent and serious about it.
THE JELI: When did you begin writing this story? How did you come with the idea?
EBELE MOGO: I started this story in 2009. I had just graduated university with Honours in Biomedical science and my last term was very hard for me in many ways. I was craving adventure, a break and fun. I decided to go to on a short summer writing school and literary tour in Manchester. This involved a lot of fun while also getting to be immersed in a community of professional writers including professors and MFAs. We were asked to write a very short story, of about 1000-1500 words if I remember correctly. I was having too much fun in Manchester and had left the assignment till the last minute. The night before the deadline, I hurriedly wrote the very short beginnings of this story.
THE JELI: How did you create your characters?
EBELE MOGO: I am not sure. For this story I didn’t think too much, I just made it up in the few minutes I had before I had to send it in. However over its iterations in the past seven years I would say I just embody the story and imagine what would come next as I experience the story. Over time I then reread and see what works or doesn’t work. In a way I go with the flow.
THE JELI: What did you enjoy most about writing this story?
EBELE MOGO: I enjoyed how it took me back to the village. We travelled to my parents hometowns in Nibo, Anambra, in Eastern Nigeria for many holidays and it was adventure filled. We would go from one village to another, and we would be surrounded with so much love of family. We would run from masquerades and people throwing knock-out fireworks, we would go to the market square for parties and we felt safe and free there.
I also loved the protagonist Dube as she represents for me the strength and resilience of the typical child and teenager in Nigeria. This aspect of teenagehood seems not to be acknowledged as much in the West where I find the teenage years to be infantilized.
THE JELI: Where & how do you write? Do you have a particular writing spot, a writing buddy or any writing rituals?
EBELE MOGO: I write everywhere, usually stealing time from a busy schedule e.g. writing a poem on the bus on the way to class, writing a short story in the office when I am done work for the day, writing a poem when I am down with a fever and it comes to me right before I sleep. However, now I am trying to be consistent, so the goal is to make sure to write every day. I rarely meet this goal but setting it has helped me be intentional about writing so that every week I end up writing at least a few times.
THE JELI: Apart from this story, what other things have you written recently?
EBELE MOGO: I am doing a lot of research writing for my doctorate and I have also written poems, blogposts, stories and essays.
THE JELI: What are your ambitions as a writer?
EBELE MOGO: I would like my work to be good in the sense that I want to continue getting better at the craft. I want my work to be truthful, in the sense that it mirrors reality in a way that brings quiet revolutions- revolutions of understanding, empathy, mindset, transformation. I want my work to deeply move me and others. I would love my work to be authentically me. It would also be awesome for my work to be widely read.
THE JELI: What are your thoughts about the writing publishing scene in your country?
EBELE MOGO: To be honest I do not know much about the publishing scene in the US and Canada or even in Nigeria except to say that there continues to be a growing wave of African writers, with new opportunities and greater diversity in what they write about. I like that in my time I can truly say that the books I look forward to reading are books by people like me, and that in my time I no longer think up white characters by default because characters of diverse ethnicities are now a prominent part of the literary imagination.
THE JELI: Who is your favourite writer?
EBELE MOGO: I do not have a favourite writer. I read so much and very diverse books all the time and I would say they all shape me.
THE JELI: What are your biggest creative inspirations?
EBELE MOGO: The people I love and have loved, the experiences I have had, moments of challenge/conflict/change in my life, and my everyday life – from taking the bus in Colorado to navigating the streets of Lagos.
THE JELI: What are your biggest creative challenges?
EBELE MOGO: There was a time when this would be my worries about how to balance all my passions, how to create a sustainable career from them all, or perhaps questioning if I am really a writer especially when I get rejections. However, I am in a phase in my life where I simply go with the flow and try to do better and get better everyday. So in this moment I would say no creative challenge but rather constant invitations to be open to my life, to be resilient, to find alternatives when faced with problems, and to be better.
THE JELI: What else have you got coming up that you would like people to know about?
EBELE MOGO: I am working on more stories. I hope they will find homes. I am always writing poems, or ‘poemy things’ as I like to call them when I am not sure if they are good enough to be called poems. I am trying to finish this doctorate and concurrently trying to create a sustainable life around my love for entrepreneurship in health and development, writing and adventure. A part of me wouldn’t mind adding singing to that list one day.